Changemakers respond to COVID-19

Mar 25, 2020

How Ashoka Fellows and communities worldwide are solving challenges in our global crisis.

@RevolutionFoods is partnering with @WCKitchen to provide fresh meals to vulnerable communities in New York City.

We live in a rapidly changing world — and perhaps that’s never felt more true than in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has taken thousands of lives, separated families and communities, shuttered businesses, eliminated jobs, and cast a cloud of uncertainty over the future.

In the midst of this dark time, our world needs more changemakers.

In cities around the world, residents are organizing teams to help neighbors who can’t access groceries or transportation. Companies are restructuring on the fly and adapting to fill current needs. People are using technology to come together in new ways. Ashoka Fellows in 90+ countries are responding to the crisis — all while imagining the post-pandemic world.

In this unprecedented moment, we’re experiencing the power of the changemaking movement. Here’s how we’re seeing changemakers jump into action in the age of COVID-19.

Building life-saving equipment through open-source innovation in Spain

Over 10,000 makers in Spain’s do-it-yourself (DIY) community are connecting online at Coronavirus Makers to build masks, respirators, and cabins for hospitals. They’re experimenting, prototyping, and printing designs on 3-D printers from their living rooms and basements. Open-source innovators David Cuartielles and César García curated the Coronavirus Makers Forum to coordinate these efforts.

Delivering soap and spreading the word across rural communities in Mexico

Cántaro Azul, a social enterprise founded by Fermin Reygadas working to improve access to water in Mexico’s rural communities, is responding to the crisis by launching communication campaigns to raise awareness about the virus and preventative measures, along with delivering soap and gel, which are usually difficult to obtain in these areas.

Fighting fake news about COVID-19 in Turkey and Spain

Maldita, a Spanish non-profit news organization co-founded by Clara Jiménez Cruz, and Teyit, founded by Turkish journalist Atakan Foca, are both empowering and mobilizing citizens as fact-checkers to combat the spread of misinformation about the virus using their platforms.

Creating a coronavirus care fund for domestic workers in the U.S.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance, directed by Ai-jen Poo, is working to slow the spread of the virus by providing emergency assistance for domestic workers that enables them to stay home and healthy. The Coronavirus Care Fund (CCF) connects qualifying home care workers, nannies and house cleaners with emergency assistance for who are experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic.

Implementing a port-of-entry surveillance app in Nepal

Medic Mobile partnered with the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) in Nepal to swiftly design an app that enrolls all incoming travelers entering Nepal through Kathmandu Airport, allowing for more effective screening of COVID-19 as well as follow up for travelers advised to self-quarantine. Staff at the Ministry’s Airport health desk are entering data into the system.

Serving up meals during school closures across the U.S.

Revolution Foods — which serves about two million meals a week to school kids across the U.S. — has pivoted to provide emergency meals for children. They’re working with school districts and distributing hundreds of thousands of meals in eight regions at schools and community centers. They’ve also extended their efforts to provide healthy meals for senior citizens and are partnering with communities to set up emergency feeding programs.

Launching public communication campaigns in Africa

Health innovator Adama Kane is using social media to disseminate information about COVID-19, share updates, and spread the #stayathome message in Sahel. Dr. Hashim Hounkpatin is spreading the message through radio programs, responding to common questions about protective measures and what to expect in coming days. In addition to leading #endTB efforts, Hilmi Quraishi is using digital tech to communicate about coronavirus in rural communities and slums.

Organizing “virtual recess” and playtime tools for families

Playworks is stepping in to support families quarantined at home, offering free video tutorials for games that follow CDC guidelines and can be played at home with little to no equipment, along with a printable Play at Home Playbook. As families creatively adapt to this situation, they can also play along during a free virtual recess live on Facebook three times per day Monday-Friday.

Serving the elderly and countering social isolation in Denmark (and beyond)

Ole Kassow, a social entrepreneur who founded Cycling Without Age (CWA) to foster stronger ties between communities and the elderly, is switching their activities from biking with the elderly to offering support through food, medicine and exploring other online interactions to fight against social isolation.

Petitioning to protect workers’ health and safety

Starbucks workers organized a petition garnering over 35,000 signatures on Michele Miller’s Coworker.org site to suspend business across all stores for everyone’s health and safety — with paid sick leave for workers. They won: the chain announced it will temporarily close all cafe-only stores for the next two weeks, only operating drive-thru and delivery services, and will pay all workers for the next 30 days whether they choose to go to work or stay home.

Campaigning for large-scale emergency responses

Alberto Alemanno of The Good Lobby is campaigning to align 27 EU National Ministers to immediately coordinate emergency response. Meanwhile, in Mexico Oscar Moctezuma Orozco is leading a public petition so that legislators can create a preventive COVID-19 strategy based on learnings from other countries.

Launching grants for young changemakers addressing COVID-19

Eric Dawson of Peace First launched a rapid response grant process for young people leading initiatives to address effects of COVID-19 in their communities, open anyone between the ages of 13–25, anywhere in the world. They’re offering mini-grants of up to $250, mentorship, and project support, and convening a global group of youth leaders to design a meaningful, youth-centered campaign in response to COVID-19.

Now more than ever, we need everyone to be a changemaker.

Changemaking can start with altering your own lifestyle — practicing physical distancing in order to #FlattenTheCurve. We need changemakers to support each other, join with neighbors and inspire others to do the same.

Whether you’re mobilizing a team or picking up the phone to call a relative, in this moment we can all be changemakers in our own situations — no matter the scale.

For more changemaker stories, follow us at @ashokachangemakers.


Changemakers respond to COVID-19 was originally published in A New Game on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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